This time around there wasn’t a group recognized, but five individuals honoured at the annual awards presented as part of National Volunteer Week.
The April 19 event in a packed room at the Ponoka Legion presented by the local Alberta Health Services (AHS) facilities — Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre as well as the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury (CCMHB) — helped celebrate the recipients of two big community awards along with those that received certificates of appreciation.
For the first time in a few years, the Rita Scott Diamond volunteer award went to some individuals instead of a community organization.
Ray Scott, Rita’s oldest son, this year selected a pair of women from their efforts on getting the town’s first fully accessible playground constructed as well as two other women — one for her lengthy but varied community service and one who has been key in being a female role model.
“My mom lived all over the world and spoke five languages. After winding up in Ponoka, she really loved it, it really felt like home and she wanted to stay,” Ray said.
“She loved to use her skills to bridge any barriers and that was part of her passion for volunteerism.”
He added the award, now in its 15th year, is a way to keep her legacy alive while also giving back to the community she loved so dearly, but left so early.
This year’s award winners span a range of different dedicated actions in community service.
First up is Jennifer Kirwin, a nurse in Ponoka who has been helping young girls for the last five years.
“This lady started out as a Sparks leader five years ago with the Ponoka Girl Guides and in 2015, she took over part leadership of the Pathfinders and Rangers,” stated Ray. “She is truly a selfless person and someone we would all like to emulate.”
He noted the key role Kirwin’s volunteer role plays in the success of the program and the tremendous time she commits to it on top of the great job she does in her regular job.
Next were two Ponoka Rotary Club members, Jennifer Bartley and Layna Palechek, who were responsible for raising $400,000 to complete the Ponoka Elementary School playground.
“They spent hours planning, fundraising and seeing this large project through to construction,” Ray noted, “They also are active in other volunteer roles on top of balancing life as professionals and having families.”
The last winner is Dorothy Houghton, but is certainly not least considering her 65 years of volunteerism in Ponoka. That includes serving at the Ponoka Legion, coordinating the Ponoka Literacy Society and helping immigrants with documents.
The award means quite a lot to Dorothy, as she knew and voluneered alongside Rita at times.
“I’m very proud to receive this award,” she said, noting something she learned at 17 during her first time volunteering.
“I started in Rimbey visiting a bachelor once a week at the care home, but he never faced me. I was sick for two weeks, so when I came back he turned to see me and said, ‘You weren’t here. Don’t you care anymore?’ That has stuck in my mind since. It’s so important that we care for other individuals.”
Meanwhile, the other award handed out during the event was the Morna Chorney Heart and Soul volunteer award, presented to individuals 55 and older for their display of leadership, commitment and community spirit.
Morna’s grandson Carlen handed the 2018 honour to Barbara Uhl, a woman who started decades ago by helping with choirs at Mecca Glen School along with offering her talents for crafts, assisting with teaching at the area school, leading seniors in exercise and getting involved with the annual agricultural fair.
“Even now, she never refuses when asked for help of any kind,” he stated, “She continues to this day as the pianist for the Sunshine Singers. Also, she is well known for her talent as a seamstress and the time she has volunteered to create garments for the group.”
For her part, Uhl was understated in her acceptance of the honour, eliciting several laughs throughout her short thank you speech.
“When I joined the Singers, I wanted to sing. I ended up playing and I enjoy it, but I think at this point my playing is better than my singing,” Uhl said, garnering one round of laughter.
She got a couple more laughs with, “I’m thankful I’ve been able to share my music with people. It doesn’t seem hard to have gotten busy, you’re rushing out the door hoping you have something clean on and wanting to make sure you get there to open the door.”
As for the event, CCMHB volunteer resources manager Lynn Gray thanked everyone who volunteered for AHS.
“These acts of kindness truly impact the quality of life of our patients, residents and their families, and importantly contribute to the support of our health care professionals,” she said.